Only a delusional person would open an art gallery in Cleveland hoping to strike it rich. It's a better way to spend money than make money. Owning a gallery is a labor of love. But despite well-known obstacles, Cleveland seems to have more galleries than ever. So why are so many artists and non-artists opening new spaces dedicated to selling and exhibiting artwork?
It's important to note that these types of changes aren't unusual. Life in the art world can be very cyclical, and it seems as if the landscape changes every two to five years. There are, of course, notable exceptions like Bonfoey Gallery, which at just over 120 years old is the only gallery in town that predates the Cleveland Museum of Art. However, this is undoubtedly a very significant time for visual arts in Northeast Ohio. With William Busta Gallery transitioning to Lauren Davies' 2731 Prospect last weekend, it seemed an appropriate time to focus on the changing landscape of Cleveland's art community.
"When the recent situation arose involving Bill Busta's retirement and the closure of his well-known gallery, it was entirely my brother's (John Davies) idea that we should approach Bill about finding a way to keep the gallery going," recounts Lauren Davies of 2731 Prospect. "As a newcomer, I have no pre-determined agenda. I've been here less than three years and continue to explore the many differences from living in California. It's utterly refreshing to be living in a place that is less overrun with a million different career-driven, ambitious things. I love the startup vibe, the grit, the authenticity, along with people who feel smart, hard-working and authentic."
Aside from 2731 Prospect, recent changes include Fred and Laura Bidwell's purchase of the Van Roy Coffee Roasters building in Hingetown, just steps from their relatively new Transformer Station, which is a partnership with the Cleveland Museum of Art.
"Laura and I have always known that Cleveland has a vibrant arts community," explains Fred Bidwell, Transformer Station co-founder and former interim director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. "As we have become more involved with the Cleveland artistic scene we see tremendous potential for the talent here to gain the experience and the recognition of playing on more of a world stage. The Cleveland arts community is ready to take it to the next level. Laura and I are excited to make the change to city living and be a part of all the positive changes that are happening in the neighborhoods of the westside and beyond."
As for the Van Roy building, Bidwell adds, "We look at our new third-floor living space there as a personal artistic project. We hope that the other two floors will be occupied by creative professionals who will bring even more energy and innovation to the center city. We think that the gallery scene has a lot of potential. There are some new players, but they are building on significant strength and they are part of a collegial community. I hope that some of the new gallerists and artists of Cleveland start to take their show on the road to show the rest of the world what Cleveland's got. We hope that our investments in the artistic landscape of Cleveland inspire collectors to invest in creativity and artists to establish vibrant sustainable careers in Cleveland."
The renovations and unification of Cleveland Institute of Art's campus (with new Reinberger Gallery, Student and Alumni Gallery and state-of-the-art Cinematheque) has been big news in the local art world.
"The opening of our new Reinberger Gallery is great news for Cleveland," promises Cleveland Institute of Art president Grafton Nunes. "Our gallery features free, public exhibitions by CIA faculty, students and a host of local, national and international contemporary artists and crafts people throughout the year. It's a welcoming, contemporary space. We think of our building as the eastern anchor of Uptown, with MOCA being the western anchor, a pleasant stroll away."
The ongoing transformation of Waterloo is also newsworthy. "We're delighted that the three newest Collinwood art centers all have CIA ties," adds Nunes. "Ink House, the Zygote Press satellite, is a contract fine-art printing studio run by CIA grad Christi Birchfield; Brick Ceramic + Design Studio was founded by CIA grad Valerie Grossman; and Praxis Fiber Workshop is a CIA partner, founded by CIA faculty member Jessica Pinsky with looms donated by CIA. These three dynamic women are helping to revitalize Collinwood in some truly creative ways."
Through Zygote Press and Ink House, as well as the Collective Arts Network and its CAN Journal, Liz Maugans continues to support and promote the arts community while engaging the community-at-large.
"Twenty years ago Zygote opened our doors," recounts Maugans, Zygote Press co-founder and executive director. "We have consulted with other like-minded folks over the years who wanted to open other entrepreneurial spaces where people could share stuff, like the Morgan Conservatory, Praxis Fiber Workshop, Brick Ceramic Studio + Design, the Cleveland Print Room, Flux Metal Arts, Guide to Kulchur and now our own satellite, Ink House. The production of art historically was, first and foremost, a cooperative venture.
"The rise of collective studios, artist hive spaces, collective speaker series, monthly neighborhood art walks, placemaking festival events and the cross section of these shared work-and-live spaces are imbedded with intergeneration groupings, integrated educational programming for youth and inclusive, free and accessible arts and cultural offerings for our communities."
Citizens Bridge Gallery and Residence recently opened next door to Zygote Press. "My sister (Elizabeth Klingler) and I dreamt of running a gallery together for many years," explains Citizens Bridge co-founder Melissa Dunfee. "Citizens Bridge Gallery and Residence's mission is to help emerging artist in their careers. No matter an artist's background, it can be difficult to find representation and exhibition opportunities as an emerging artist. As artists and art school graduates ourselves, we understand these struggles. This is why we support artists by providing opportunities for networking development, portfolio expansion, experimentation and educational artistic experience. In this process, we help bridge the gap between artists and the Greater Cleveland community, one exhibition, one mentoring session and one connection at a time."
Additional changes include major upgrades to 78th Street Studios (including the new Derek Hess Gallery and a renovated lower "ramp" level anchored by ARTneo's beautiful new home) and Akron's Harris Stanton Gallery's new Cleveland location.
Galleries have also closed. Following a less-than-successful crowdfunding effort, Breakneck Gallery in Lakewood closed after just three and a half years; it had been Rich Cihlar's Pop Shop and (Art)ificial Gallery for about five years before then. Loren Naji's Studio Gallery in Ohio City remains closed as Naji continues to battle red tape in the legal system. Additional, less recent closings include Rotten Meat Gallery, Proximity Gallery, Brandt Gallery and William Rupnick's still-vacant gallery on Euclid Avenue. BUCKBUCK also closed, but was reborn as Canopy Collective.
"Canopy came to be out of our desire to create a space where just about anyone could have the opportunity to participate in the growth of the arts in Cleveland," explains Erika Durham, who co-founded canopy with Anthony Koch. "We see ourselves not only as a gallery, but as a creative space available to all disciplines. When you open your eyes to it, it's amazing to see the creativity that exists in the people of our city. I believe that Canopy's role in Cleveland's art scene is to be a space that can at once take the arts very seriously and still maintain a level of approachability that allows anyone to be comfortable here. The arts do wonders for people in so many ways, and we are incredibly grateful to be able to offer those experiences."